In the 1920s, many parts of rural and isolated Alaska were threatened by the kinds of diseases we never hear much about anymore.
In early 1925, the fishing town of Nome on the west coast was under threat of an epidemic of diptheria.
The story made headlines all around America and the race was on to get an antidote, in serum form, to Nome, more than a thousand kilometres away from the nearest outpost.
With temperatures, on a good day, hovering at about minus 50 Celsius, it was up to husky teams and a few brave men to make the trip.
Over the course of what it now known as the “Great 1925 Serum Run to Nome”, 150 dogs and 20 men relayed the medicine through a wall of blizzards.
Some of the dogs died and the men often arrived at their drop off point with their hands and faces black with frostbite. But they delivered the serum, entirely intact (although obviously frozen), and saved the town and people of Nome.
It took five and a half days, with 20 separate husky teams pulling their masters and sleds between 60 to 146kms (40 to 90 miles) in one stint. ‘Balto’, the lead dog in the final section of the relay, is commemorated in a statue in New York’s Central Park, for his “endurance, fidelity and intelligence”.
Huskies are amongst the most beautiful looking dogs you can get, and for that reason, and that reason alone, they have become highly popular here.
There are several different types, but the most common in Ireland is the Siberian Husky.
They have the DNA of wolves in them. Why? Because the Siberian husky is a dog that has been bred to pull heavy loads very fast and very far. Along the way, they were crossbred with wolves – and let’s just say, it wasn’t to make them fluffier.
On a scientific physiological level they’re way off the scale. The average elite athlete has the ability to process one and a half times as much oxygen as the average couch potato. I won’t bore you with the science, but on the test to determine this, couch potatoes score somewhere between 30 and 50, elite athletes are somewhere between 70 and 90.
Huskies hit 250. They are not elite athletes. They are freaks.
I took a husky for a walk recently. She dragged me for 12kms across bogs, down canal banks, through hedges, under bridges, around lakes and back.
At the end, I was on my knees - she was a bit thirsty.
For such a big dog, she was quite light, but amazingly strong. She was growled at by umpteen dogs, whom she completely ignored, as if they were flies.
The other day, I saw a rather large and rotund man, leading a rather large and rotund male husky on a lead. The man walked approximately half a kilometre from his house to the local shop. There, he got somebody to hold the dog while he went inside to buy something with lots of sugar in it. Then, they both waddled home, as the rotund man drank the stuff with lots of sugar. It was one of those warm days and the dog was panting hard, in a way that suggested he was uncomfortable and in distress.
Clearly neither of them were getting enough exercise. The man could do with walking another four and a half kilometres, the husky, another 29 and a half, in a climate that’s 20 degrees colder.
Dan Donoher of Kildare Animal Foundation says there’s a clear problem with people owning the dogs, and not really knowing what it is they actually have in their back garden.
“They’re not being exercised enough and they’re getting all these problems. They’re becoming hyper, getting stressed out, losing weight. And their mental health suffers as well,” he said.
“They’re cute and cuddly when they’re puppies, but when they’re six months old, it’s a different story altogether.”
He’s quite clear: “The simple fifteen minute walk just doesn’t cut it anymore. They can go for hours and hours.”
Dan blames films for making them popular and irresponsible breeders for essentially taking the money and running without advising new owners.
“We get a lot of them in here, people asking us to rehouse them,” which, he says, is difficult.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, people are confusing them with Malamutes, which look similar, but are bigger (over six stone rather than four) and far stronger and need even more exercise.
These breeds have been created over centuries by humanity for specific purposes. Looking pretty and fluffy in suburban Kildare back gardens is not one of them, and is clearly a cruelty.
It is cruel to impose upon any animal an environment and lifestyle so foreign to them that it makes them unhealthy.
It’s time to do the responsible thing.
If you insist on owning a husky, either be prepared to adopt one from Kildare Animal Foundation along with a new lifestyle that includes long distance running - or get a Jack Russell.
- Conor McHugh